Ron Thomas knows a parade when he sees one.

The owner of Harborwalk Scoops and Bites in Punta Gorda also recognizes the best place to be.

“There’s nothing more exciting than walking down the middle of the street and seeing all those people on the sidewalk there to cheer you on,” Thomas said. “We sort of forget that it’s kind of cool to be in a parade.

“To be able to walk in a parade is a big deal.”

Thomas is chairman of the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce’s 40th annual Christmas Parade. The parade, with a theme of Christmas through the Years, will step off at noon Dec. 8, at Charlotte High School, head north on Taylor Road, and then disband at the Conference & Event Center.

Sue Sifrit, the driving force behind the recent successful Yes for Success campaign, will feel that excitement as the parade’s grand marshal. Santa will be there, too, right in the thick of things.

Awards will be presented to first- second- and third-place winners in a variety of categories: Best Float (flatbeds or trailers), Best Decorated Car or Pickup Truck, and Best Marching/Performing Unit. Winners will be announced and presented at the Chamber’s Third Wednesday Coffee on Dec. 19.

But perhaps the most important participants in Thomas’ view will be the kids.

“Lots of parades are static,” said Thomas, whose first year as a parade organizer was 1990. “Ours is not. We have so many kids involved — the Bandits and Warriors football teams, the BMX kids are on bikes, the dancing groups.

“I think that so many kids being involved reflects the nature of our community. Our parade is oriented toward kid participation, and that has been a constant through the years. Our parade is all about families and kids being able to walk down the street.

“It’s what makes it unique.”

If the Christmas parade is driven by kids’ participation, it also is beholden to the people who come out to watch — the grandmas and grandpas in their lawn chairs, the parents videotaping with their phones, the folks on hand to witness a slice of the real America presented for their viewing pleasure.

“The parade has always drawn well,” Thomas said. “But over the last few years we’ve seen more people. It’s better than ever. It’s just a great way to get together.

“More than anything, it says a lot about our community that people really enjoy going out and being together as a family.”

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